Latest news about bird flu (avian influenza)
Thai premier gives his ministers a month to solve problem after crisis meeting to save Thailand's stricken poultry trade
BANGKOK - Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday ordered his ministers to wipe out bird flu by the end of October and warned that they would be sacked if they failed.
The orders came at an emergency meeting with provincial governors, who were summoned to Bangkok a day after Thai authorities and international experts confirmed a probable case of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
While the case appeared to be an isolated one, it prompted Mr Thaksin to crack the whip in an effort to put an end to the outbreak, which has killed 10 people in Thailand this year and another 20 others in Vietnam. 'The government will wage a war on bird flu... because it is a big problem that sparks fear both domestically and internationally,' he said. 'By Oct 31, we must be able to declare there is no more bird flu in Thailand.'
The Premier, who had declared 'wars' in the past on drug trafficking, corruption and software piracy, ordered the governors to launch a house-to-house census of chickens, assume every dead fowl was a bird flu fatality, and cull birds ruthlessly wherever the deadly H5N1 virus was detected.
Confidence in Thai poultry, tourism and food safety would be damaged if the campaign failed, he warned.
'Should there be a Cabinet reshuffle, a few people, including the deputy prime minister, agricultural minister and health minister... will be moved out.' But deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang said yesterday the problem would probably take three to five years to bring under control.
He told a radio station. 'There are no fences along borders of countries in Asia to block migrating birds. As long as the disease persists in China, Vietnam and Malaysia, Thailand won't be able to get rid of bird flu and vice versa.' Migratory wildfowl are thought to spread the virus. Among the measures the Thai authorities have taken are a ban on raising chickens and ducks in open air farms, providing more testing and isolation facilities for government hospitals. But some economists believe Thailand's poultry industry, which last year was the world's fifth largest exporter of chicken and chicken products, would never fully recover from the bird flu outbreak.
A Thai woman who died on Sept 20 from the H5N1 strain in Nonthaburi province was probably infected by her daughter, the Thai Health Ministry and World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
Her death was the first case on record of probable human-to-human transmission. For the virus to become a public health threat, it must be passed from person to person, not from bird to person. 'The hope is this is an isolated cluster,' Dr Robert Webster, an influenza virologist at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, told the Washington Post. 'If it goes to a second round from this family, then we are in trouble.'
--Straits Times 2004-09-3027-09-2004
Thailand probes possible human transmission of bird flu
Thai officials are investigating the possibility of human-to-human transmission of bird flu in the deaths of a woman and her daughter who had symptoms similar to those caused by the disease, an official said on Saturday.
The dead woman's sister, who is also suffering from flu-like symptoms, tested negative on Friday for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, allaying some of the fears, said Mr Charal Trinwuthipong, director general of the Disease Control Department.
But test results on samples taken from the dead woman, identified only as Pranee, will not be available until next week, and until then the possibility of human-to-human transmission of bird flu cannot be ruled out, Mr Charal said.
Health experts are worried about the possibility of the avian virus combining with a human influenza virus to create a more deadly version that could easily be spread among people - giving rise to a possible global pandemic.
Pranee, 26, died on Sept 20 in a hospital near Bangkok. She is not known to have come in contact with chickens or birds, but had spent about a week in close contact with her 11-year-old daughter until the girl's death in a hospital on Sept 12 in the northern Kamphaengphet province.
The girl also had bird flu-like symptoms, but no tests could be done on her because she had already been cremated by the time officials were alerted.
Pranee's 30-year-old sister, who also took care of the girl in the hospital, fell ill with a similar respiratory infection on Sept 16.
Mr Charal said the sister tested negative for H5N1, but added that a second and third round of tests will be conducted to confirm the result. He said the chances of finding the bird flu virus in Pranee's body were slim because it had already been injected with formaldehyde before being sent for an autopsy, which would have killed any organisms.
A bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 killed six people and resulted in limited human-to-human transmission, meaning that those who got the disease from other people experienced only minor symptoms, but there was no evidence the virus had mutated.
Nine people have died of bird flu in Thailand in two outbreaks of the disease since January, and another 19 have died in Vietnam. But most, if not all, of those cases are believed to have resulted from direct contact with diseased poultry or other birds. -- AP24-09-2004
Thailand reports three deaths suspected of bird flu infection
Thailand on Thursday added three deceased patients to the list of suspected cases of bird flu infection.
The three patients, including a pair of mother and daughter and a separate boy, passed away with pneumonia symptoms in the northeastern province of Kamphaengphet in past 15 days, said Dr. Kamnuan Ungchoosak, the chief of Communicable Diseases Department of the Public Health Ministry.
He said the lab test of the three cases would come out in a few days.
Since the avian influenza rebounded in the kingdom in July, an 18-year-old man has died last month in central Thailand, pushing the kingdom's bird flu casualty to 9.
In the first wave of bird flu outbreak at the beginning of this year, eight people in Thailand were killed by the epidemic. Another 19 people have died in Vietnam, bringing the Asian death toll to 28.
Besides, there have been 128 patients in Thailand under observation for possible infection of the disease since early July.
Now, 114 of the cases have been cleared and the rest are still waiting for the test result.22-09-2004
Cambodia is 6th Asian nation to detect bird flu
Cambodia has detected its first outbreak of bird flu in chickens in recent months to become the sixth Asian nation to report a resurgence of the potentially fatal virus, officials said Wednesday.
29 Thais on list of suspected bird-flu cases
Thai health officials said on Thursday that at least 13 more patients have been added to a watchlist after falling sick with bird-flu-like symptoms. These are additional suspected cases to another 16 people who have been under a close health monitoring.
Pipat Yingseri, an official inspector of the Ministry of PublicHealth, was quoted by the Thai News Agency as saying that the 29 suspect people are waiting for their test results, adding that at least 27 of the suspected cases were from the bird-flu stricken province of Prachinburi, eastern Thailand.
Doctor Pipat said the government has monitored the second bird-flu outbreak from July until the middle of this month. During the monitoring period, only one patient had been confirmed to have died of bird-flu virus.
Prachinburi has been under a close surveillance after a man died after contracting H5N1, the lethal avian flu virus, from his fighting cocks last week.
He became the ninth who died of bird-flu in the kingdom.
The bird-flu outbreak hit Thailand's poultry early this year, and killed eight people nationwide before it was contained.
However, the country has recently faced a second wave of the avian flu.
In the meantime, the Thai government has decided to ban the vaccination in all kind of birds except among the country's endangered species, rare wild birds and fighting cocks on Wednesday.
Dutch Find Greater Threat to Humans from Bird Flu
Dutch scientists have determined bird flu can spread more easily among humans than was previously thought, researchers said Tuesday.
Albert Osterhaus, a professor at Rotterdam's Erasmus University, said the finding was based on a study into the spread of the potentially fatal disease among humans after an outbreak of the disease in the Netherlands in 2003.
He said researchers who tested medical workers and friends and family of 90 people who contracted the highly infectious avian influenza last year found hundreds of undiagnosed cases.
"We discovered some 500 more people were infected directly from their relatives or colleagues during the outbreak in 2003," Osterhaus said, noting that none of the additional people had shown bird flu symptoms.
The study -- which was carried out with the National Institute of Health -- concluded more vigilance against the disease was needed as both the strain that appeared in the Netherlands and another in Asia were very infectious.
Local poultry farms are being tested regularly since the bird flu outbreak last year led to the slaughter of a quarter of all Dutch poultry at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros.
The Netherlands culled 30.7 million birds at some 1,300 farms to contain the outbreak, which was first discovered in March 2003 and caused the death of a veterinarian who took samples at an infected farm but was not vaccinated.
A strain of bird flu killed 24 people in Southeast Asia earlier this year.
Three difficulties hamper prevention of avian flu: WHO official
Avian influenza is different from SARS in many ways, and there are three major difficulties in the prevention of this deadly disease, said an official with the World Health Organization (WHO) at the ongoing 55th Session of WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.
Generally speaking, SARS mostly broke out in cities and hit people, but avian flu mainly occurs in rural areas among poultry. The surveillance systems in rural areas are often not as good as in urban areas, and the surveillance of humans is easier than of animals, said Shigeru Omi, director of WHO's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, at a press briefing on the sideline of the conference Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Omi said the poultry industry is a very important part of economy to many Asian countries. "Whether we admit or not, people's first instinct is to protect the poultry industry. That's the reality and challenge we have to face."
In addition, Omi said the prevention and treatment of SARS was usually under the mandate of health ministries. "But when it comes to avian influenza, it becomes more complicated." In many countries, it is the agricultural department that is responsible for animal health, so the coordination between health and agricultural departments is key in avian flu prevention.
"Internationally, we also face the same problem. The WHO is strengthening coordination with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and World Organization for Animal Health. It is not easy," he said.
In November 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza was reported from the Republic of Korea and the pathogen was identified as influenza A (H5N1). Other outbreaks were soon reported from other countries in Asia and over 100 million birds in Asia either died of the diseases or were culled. To date, there were 39 human infections and 28 deaths.
The WHO regional director said despite the recent experience of SARS, once again many countries were caught unprepared by avian flu.
Although most countries have surveillance systems for communicable diseases, they were usually unable to function as early warning systems and many countries lacked the laboratory capacity to support surveillance and outbreak investigation, Omi said.
He said there existed a risk that the H5N1 virus got mutated from an animal virus to a human virus. "Improving preparedness for such events is a concern both for individual countries and the international community."
He urged all countries in the world to be more alert to avian flu, to improve capacities for dealing with possible outbreaks of infectious diseases and take regional and global actions to prevent avian flu.
Thai farmers protest against bird flu vaccines
Thousands of Thai chicken farmers waved banners and shouted slogans today, demanding the government maintain its ban on bird flu vaccines that they believe would hurt efforts to resume exports.
The government has begun studying vaccines to protect against bird flu as it tries to contain an outbreak of the disease. But farmers say European consumers would balk at eating vaccinated chickens because of sensitivities about chemical residues in their food.
"There is no guarantee that vaccination can prevent chicken from contracting the bird flu virus," said Boonsom Phoopakdi, a member of a chicken breeders' group from the central province of Chachoengsao.
"Foreign buyers will not be willing to buy poultry from producers using this policy," said Boonsom, who was among 3 000 farmers protesting outside the Agriculture Ministry in Bangkok.
There is not yet a vaccine for the H5N1 avian influenza, which has killed nine Thais, 20 Vietnamese and has forced the slaughter of tens of millions of birds, although vaccines against other strains of the virus exist.
Despite Thailand's ban on vaccinating chickens, Thaksin Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, ordered a study last week on vaccinating birds raised for cock fighting.
"I have yet to order the use of vaccines. This is up to academics to consider," Thaksin said on Saturday, soon after an 18-year-old man who raised fighting cocks died of the disease.
The government's task force on bird flu is expected to discuss the pros and cons of vaccines at a meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Chaturon Chaisang today.
International health authorities, including the World Health Organisation, question the effectiveness of vaccines and say culling is the best weapon against the spread of bird flu.
Thailand was the world's fourth largest chicken exporter until the disease halted exports to its two biggest markets, Japan and Europe.
"We came here to urge the government to keep its word on a ban on vaccination," one farmer said. The farmers supply most of their birds to exporting companies. - Reuters
Avian flu pandemic likely unless more efforts taken, WHO chief warns in China
A top World Health Organization official warned Saturday of a likely global pandemic of avian flu unless tougher efforts are made to combat the virus's spread and improve sanitation in the poultry industry.
Although all 39 cases of the disease among people have been contracted from animals, human-to-human transmission of the virus is likely only a matter of time, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the western Pacific.
"So far there are no cases of human-to-human transmission, but if the situation continues a long time, there is a high possibility that we will have," Omi said at a news conference ahead of next week's western Pacific regional annual meeting in Shanghai. "Unless intensified efforts are made to halt the spread of the virus, a pandemic is very likely to occur."
Successive outbreaks of the virus in several Asian nations have killed 28 people in Thailand and wiped out millions of chickens, ducks and other birds. Three new cases were found among people in Vietnam last month, and Omi said the virus was already entrenched and circulating in several countries.
Omi called the human death toll a "quite high case-fatality rate," an indication of the possibly catastrophic outcome of a global outbreak of a new virus combining human and animal strains.
Historical trends covering the frequency of epidemics also dictate that a pandemic is "now due," Omi said. Circulation of people, animals and goods is also much higher now than at the time of the deadly 1918 global Spanish flu outbreak, allowing a virus to spread much more quickly and efficiently.
Omi said the WHO was particularly concerned about the new cases in Vietnam because they occurred in an area not previously known to have infections among poultry.
Authorities need to pay more attention to often unhealthy living conditions for food animals, as well as the slaughter, packing and distribution of their meat, Omi said. Public health services also need to be continuously built up to detect and isolate outbreaks and deal with the aftermath.
In contrast, Omi said the region is now much better prepared to deal with a renewed outbreak of SARS, which killed almost 800 people worldwide, including 44 in Toronto, after emerging out of southern China in late 2002.
"Of course we should not relax, but based on the experience of last year and our overall judgment, we are much better prepared," Omi said.
Omi especially praised improvements in China's response to SARS, which he and other health officials had harshly criticized last year for being secretive and sluggish. Omi said collaboration between the WHO and China has been excellent since April 2003, when China released true figures on its numbers of cases and acknowledged the outbreak was a serious problem.
The five-day WHO regional conference starting Monday is set to discuss the recent outbreaks of SARS and avian flu, as well as tobacco control and efforts to control AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases and improve blood and food safety.
New Malaysian bird flu cases found say officials
Officials in Malaysia say new cases of bird flu have been detected for the second time in five days.
They say a veterinary worker has been hospitalised with fever and a cough.
Culling of poultry in the infected area is beginning.
But the authorities say more tests are needed to determine whether the virus is of the H5N1 strain, which has killed 27 people in Asia this year.
The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, says a bird flu pandemic could sweep Asia unless efforts to halt the virus are intensified.
The regional director for the WHO's Western Pacific Region, Shigeru Omi, says member states must strengthen reporting systems and improve their animal husbandry practices.
He was speaking ahead of a regional WHO conference that begins on Monday in Shanghai.
Delaware Professor Pleads Guilty in Poultry Virus Smuggling
A University of Delaware professor has pleaded guilty in Maine to a federal criminal charge related to the smuggling of a poultry virus.
University officials confirmed late today that John Rosenberger has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the receipt and concealment of a poultry virus.
Rosenberger is known for his research on avian diseases. He had been charged with smuggling goods into the United States and aiding and abetting the concealment of a smuggled item.
Rosenberger is free on bond. His sentencing will be scheduled after mid-November.
The university says it learned of the guilty plea in a press release from the US Attorney's Office in Maine.
UD provost Dan Rich says the school had no previous knowledge of any violations of university procedures or federal laws.
One boy dies of bird flu disease in Thailand
A boy has died of bird flu virus in Thailand's central Prachinburi province, bringing the death toll from the epidemic in Asia to 28, the official Thai News Agency reported here on Thursday.
The 18-year-old boy, who raised more than 100 fighting cocks ina farm in Prachinburi, died on Wednesday. He fell ill two weeks ago and was admitted to hospital on Sept. 4 .
"The lab test confirmed that he had the H5N1," Thai Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan was quoted by the TNA as saying.
A 16-year-old boy who lived in the same neighborhood has been taken to hospital and was waiting for further testing results, it said.
The latest death has raised the number of people killed by birdflu in Thailand this year to nine and in Asia to 28. During its first outbreak in January, eight people died in Thailand and 16 inVietnam.
Most poultry farms in Thailand were heavily hit by the bird flucrisis breaking out at the beginning of this year. The epidemic was also considered one of the main causes for the slowdown of the country's economic growth in 2004.
Baby dies of suspected bird flu in Vietnam
A 14-month-old baby boy in Vietnam has died of suspected bird flu despite government claims that the deadly disease has been brought under control.
The baby, hospitalised in Hanoi on Aug 28 and then transferred to the Central Paediatric Hospital for specialist care, died on Sunday, said Mr Nguyen Duc Long, deputy director of the Health Ministry's legal department.
He denied that the child, Le Viet Anh, had been infected with the H5N1 strain of avian flu that had killed 19 people in Vietnam this year and eight others in Thailand.
'The baby tested positive for Type A H5 virus, but this is not bird flu,' he said.
However, the World Health Organisation's representative in Vietnam, Mr Hans Troedsson, said it was 'highly likely' that the child's death was caused by bird flu.'We suspect that H5N1 was responsible but we need to investigate it further.'
The baby and his family lived near a market in Hanoi's Thanh Tri district, according to state media.
In northern Malaysia, a 10-year-old boy who lived near an affected house and a veterinary worker who had fever, cough and diarrhoea have been put under hospital observation. Doctors are watching for signs of the H5N1 strain, said the country's Health Ministry.
They were among more than 800 people screened for signs of the illness after chickens and quails were found dead of suspected H5N1 in the Kampung Belian area, in a quarantine zone declared around the village where bird flu was first found on Aug 17.
A new 10km quarantine zone is being imposed for 21 days around the site of the latest reported case, said Mr Hawari Hussein, director-general of the veterinary service.
'We're taking all the same measures. We're killing 1,200 birds,' he said. The slaughter was expected to be completed by last night. -- AFP
Thailand to reconsider use of bird-flu vaccine
In an attempt to avoid a chicken cull, Thai farmers are buying bird vaccines on the black market. The government is now considering whether to allow use of the avian-influenza vaccines, which were banned because of safety concerns.
A government committee weighing up the issue is expected to report within the next few weeks. This follows a government crackdown on their use. Vaccination claims to keep healthy birds infection-free, protecting the livelihoods of farmers and avoiding the need to kill hundreds of thousands of birds. But experts at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warn that even seemingly healthy vaccinated birds can contract the virus and spread it, and that black-market vaccines themselves might aid development of a more dangerous strain.
Experts agree that vaccine use can be successful, as long as it is accompanied by strict monitoring and testing - something Thailand does not have the resources to do.
Culling remains by far the most effective way to stop avian influenza spreading, but this could have a massive impact on the country, once one of the world's main poultry exporters. While the government considers its next move, it plans an educational campaign. But this is not expected to end the use of illegal vaccines.
Cats Can Catch and Spread Bird Flu, Study Says
A bird flu virus killed 23 people in Asia and led to the vast slaughter of poultry several months ago.Now a new study says the flu can also infect cats, and that cats can spread the flu to other cats.
The finding raises the possibility that they may eventually spread the flu to other mammals, including humans. Scientists previously believed domestic cats were resistant to diseases from influenza A virus, to which the bird flu virus-also known as H5N1-belongs. The new research suggests that domestic cats are at risk of disease or death from the avian virus. The cats can also play a role in the transmission of the virus, scientists say.
"That cats could so easily be infected and could transmit the infection to other cats means that in areas where poultry are infected with H5N1 virus, cats could act as vectors," said Thijs Kuiken, a veterinary pathologist in the department of virology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Holland. "Cats could transmit the virus from one poultry farm to another, or could transmit the virus to people," said Kuiken, an author of the study described in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.
The avian influenza A virus was responsible for massive poultry slaughters in eight Asian countries in 2003 and 2004. Thirty-seven cases of direct bird-to-human transmission, 26 of them fatal, were officially reported. Anecdotal reports of fatal infections in cats also emerged during the outbreak.
Kuiken and his colleagues investigated whether the virus could make cats sick when the pathogen was introduced into their airways or when the cats ate infected chickens. The researchers introduced the H5N1 virus into the airways of three cats. Three other cats were fed an infected chick. Finally, two cats were exposed to the virus by being placed in the same cage as the first three cats. The cats soon showed signs of disease: raised body temperature, decreased activity, and labored breathing. All developed severe lung disease. One cat died after six days of infection.
"Were we surprised? Yes!" Kuiken said. "Although we had expected to see some pathologic change in the lungs-because of the anecdotal reports of cats dying from H5N1 virus infection in Thailand-we didn't expect them to be so severe and present in all animals." "Often an infectious agent that causes mortality in the field has a much less severe effect when the infection is performed in the laboratory," Kuiken added. "With H5N1 virus, the experimental infection also resulted in severe lesions."
Previously there were no reports of disease in cats from infection with an influenza A virus. Kuiken says the evidence of transmission from cat to cat is a particularly important finding. "With all of the human cases of H5N1 virus infection, the virus was transmitted from bird to human (bird to mammal), not from human to human (mammal to mammal)," Kuiken said. "Our study shows that H5N1 virus transmission from cat to cat (mammal to mammal) is possible." The ability of the virus to infect cats suggests that cats could enable the pathogen to adapt to mammals. If the virus could replicate more easily in cats, it also might replicate more easily in humans, increasing the risk of a human influenza pandemic. "That this H5N1 virus caused pneumonia and death in cats suggests that the virus has increased its ability to cause disease in this species-not that the species is less resistant," Kuiken said.
Some scientists downplay the threat of the new findings. "To be a significant new threat, the infection would have to keep the cat well enough to travel and spread and yet sick enough to maintain high doses of virus so that transmission is achieved," said Ian Jones, a professor at the School of Animal and Microbial Sciences at the University of Reading in England. "This experimental situation shows this can occur. But it is a long way from the natural situation where a sick animal may hide away or die," he added. "So the real increase in risk may actually be quite small." Michael Lai, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says the report should not scare people. "It's true that the more animals the virus can infect, the more likely the virus can spread to humans," Lai said. "However, the possibilities that a cat serves as an additional reservoir for avian flu and that it may allow human and avian flu viruses to recombine are quite remote." If the transmission occurred easily, Lai said, we should have seen widespread flu infection in cats in the avian flu epidemic areas in the past few years. This did not happen. The study authors also tested the effect of another type of influenza virus, H3N2, which most commonly causes flu in humans.
Cats exposed in the same way to this virus did not develop disease...
'Thai chicken for Russian arms' offer
Thailand, with its huge poultry industry stricken by bird flu, wants to pay for Russian weaponry with chickens, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said.
He said he had ordered his ambassador in Moscow to offer Thai chicken for Russian weapons, and that he would consult military chiefs on what arms they wanted.
Thailand, the world's fourth-biggest chicken exporter until the industry was ravaged by bird flu early this year, has never exported poultry to Russia.
But with the European Union and Japan, its biggest customers, barring imports of Thai fresh and frozen chicken, it has been offering incentives like cheap credit to Asian countries willing to buy Thai poultry.
Mr Thaksin gave no hint on whether warplanes were on his Moscow shopping list, but Russia's Vedomosti business daily reported yesterday that Bangkok wanted to buy at least six Sukhoi Su-30s worth US$200 million (S$340 million).
It quoted a source close to Russia's arms trade authority as saying Thailand, which has equipped its air force with American fighters, had sent a defence delegation to Russia recently to Irkut, which has a licence to produce the Su-30.
Another company making Su-30s is state-owned Sukhoi Corporation, Russia's top arms exporter, which has forecast sales for this year at US$1.5 billion and plans to export 40 fighters.-- reuters
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